Lockheed Martin test pilots are flying UAE Air Force F-16E Desert Falcons at the show, demonstrating the UAE’s latest and most advanced fighter aircraft.
The F-16E and F-16F Block 60, also known as the Desert Falcon, are the most advanced F-16 variants ever produced. The sale of the aircraft to the UAE was seen as a landmark in America – one press report said the deal represented “the first time the US has sold a better aircraft overseas than its own forces fly”.
The UAE ordered 80 aircraft (consisting of 55 single-seat F-16Es and 25 F-16Fs), and the first of these made its maiden flight on December 6, 2003. The UAE took delivery of an initial batch of F-16E/Fs in 2004, and these equipped No.16 Squadron at Al Dhafra AB.
All Block 60 development costs were paid for by the UAE, which invested almost $3 billion in the programme. In return, the UAE will receive royalty payments if any of the Block 60’s technology is exported and has full control over source code for the F-16 Block 60 and its weapons, allowing it to add to the aircraft’s threat libraries without US permission or assistance.
By comparison with other advanced F-16s, the Block 60s have a Northrop Grumman AN/APG-80 Agile Beam Radar with an active electronically scanned array (AESA) antenna. This was the third fighter AESA to be fielded, after the APG-63(V)2 on 18 USAF F-15s and the F-22’s APG-79. The APG-80 offers almost twice the air-to-air detection range compared to the mechanically scanned APG-68(V)7. The aircraft is also fitted with a Northrop Grumman AN/ASQ-28 IFTS (Internal FLIR and Targeting System) mounted as a ball turret above the nose) replacing the external pods used on earlier variants.
The UAE F-16s also have an integrated electronic warfare suite with a Northrop Grumman ‘Falcon Edge’ internal electronic countermeasures system, which has been described as being a more advanced ECM system than is fitted to USAF F-16s.
Some unanswered questions about the UAE F-16 programme remain. Though Lockheed Martin delivered the last F-16E in the fourth quarter of 2006, only a relatively small number of the 80 aircraft delivered are believed to be available for operations on a day-to-day basis.
The type was originally expected to equip a unit at Al Dhafra (part of Western Air Command – the “Abu Dhabi Air Force”) first, and then to equip a unit at Minhad (Central Air Command, - the “Dubai Air Force”). The F-16 is not yet operating from Minhad, and large numbers of F-16E/Fs are reportedly in store At Al Dhafra.
It is believed that a lack of trained pilots has delayed the stand-up of the new F-16 unit at Minhad, though at least 14 UAE Air Force F-16s remain active with the Arizona Guard at Tucson, US, (where UAE F-16 pilots undergo conversion training).